Saturday, January 29, 2011

Worth Reading: Knuth & De Rossi

I returned two books to the library today, both of which were worthwhile reads.

The first was Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25 Cents at a Time, by Jane Knuth. Knuth lives in the Kalamazoo area and is an eighth-grade math teacher. Fifteen years ago, she stopped into the St Vincent de Paul thrift store, to buy a rosary, and somehow came away as a new volunteer.

At her first meeting with the others who ran the store, she suggested that she could organize the paperwork with a computer system, to use "for inventory control, paying bills, client files, and make it possible for customers to use credit cards for purchases" (She had been shocked to learn that she couldn't pay for the rosary with her credit card). The other volunteers rolled their eyes, and one octogenarian said "What we could really use is someone who would take out the trash every night and clean the bathroom."

The stories in "Thrift Store Saints" illustrate Knuth's changing perspective, as she focuses on the people who come into the store, listens to them, and learns from them about Jesus, and about serving others.

The second book was Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain, by Portia De Rossi. I don't remember where I heard about this book, and when I picked it up at the library, I didn't even remember reserving it. It turned out to be an astonishing read.

The WebMD internet site says "Anorexia affects both the body and the mind. It may start as dieting, but it gets out of control. You think about food, dieting, and weight all the time. You have a distorted body image. Other people say you are too thin, but when you look in the mirror, you see a fat person."

This is exactly what De Rossi relates in her book, in blunt, straightforward detail. She describes her career, beginning as a teen model, and progressing to a role in Ally McBeal. The thread that runs throughout is her attention to her weight. Success is measured by her scale, and by whether the studio tailor has to take in or let out her costumes.

For me, one of the most chilling episodes in her book occurred when she was visiting her family during the Christmas holiday. Her family and friends were all horrified at her appearance; her brother cried as he expressed his fear that she was going to die.

Christmas morning, she was weighing herself, ever so carefully, so that she would have an "accurate" reading. She describes how precisely she steps on the scale, at just the right moment. She writes,
I was ready to receive my Christmas present, the gift of health and self-love that I'd given myself this year. With complete calmness and acceptance, I looked down at my feet.
"Merry Christmas, Portia"
It is scary that she was so pleased, that she believed she was in such good health, while all around her could clearly see that just the opposite was true. 

De Rossi weighed just 82 pounds when she collapsed on a movie set. Subsequent tests revealed just how physically ill she had become - and this finally gave her "permission" to stop focusing on her weight.

We need to teach our girls to obsess about life, not weight...!


  1. Or, better yet, not to obsess about anything, but rather take things in balance.

    I'm interested particularly in the first book you cite; I need to check that one out of our library.

  2. "...take things in balance" - now there's an idea!